Monday, 28 February 2011

From My Memory Box.

“Pampoene Op Die Dak”
I am only now realising that my brain is like a computer.   I have things stored away that pop up on occasions such as this.   Listening to the Afrikaans song “Pampoene op die Dak” has set the ball rolling again.   “Pampoene Op Die Dak” means Pumpkins On The Roof.
My dad used to grow pumpkins between the rows of mealies, and at the end of the season the land would be dotted with big white ‘Boerpampoene’.   They were the very best eating pumpkins in the whole world, flat and white.   If you turn them over you can see a ring where the flower used to be, and the bigger the ring the nicer the pumpkin.   To this day, when buying a ‘Boer’ pumpkin, I choose the one with the biggest ring.   A span of oxen pulling a wagon would be sent into the land to pick up the ripe fruit.   The best fruit would be laid out on a flat roof; the best place to keep them from rotting.   The servants would be given a share, and the small and rejected ones would be piled next to the pig sty for their winter food.   You may see pumpkins stored on a roof in winter even these days as we did a few years ago when visiting “Evita Se Perron” in Darling on the West Coast.  (See photo taken at Darling)

Makatan Jam and Konfyt
            Other melons which grew amongst the Mealies were ‘karkoere’ and ‘makatans’.   Karkoere were small round melons and very bitter to the taste and were used as pig food.   They grew in the hundreds and were actually weeds.   Those which stayed behind on the lands were eaten by the cattle and sheep, or they rotted there for their seed to grow again the next year.  The Makatan, also known as a Kaffir Melon, was big and round, and when cut open was the colour of butter.   The town folk always bought them from the farmer and they were used for making Melon and Ginger Jam, or those very sweet pieces of ‘Konfyt’.   Some farmers also grew calabash gourds of different sizes which could be cooked and eaten while still young and green, or allowed to dry.   (The Basutos called them marankies).  . When ripe and dry the small ones were used for ornamental purposes and the big ones were opened at the top to use for storing water or sour milk which was known in Afrikaans as ‘Kalbas Melk’.   These days it is sold in our Supermarkets as ‘Maas”.

A Mushroom for the gods.
Many types of mushroom grow in South Africa but most of them are poisonous.   However the King of mushrooms is known as a “khowa”, it is as big as a dinner plate and is found in old mealie lands and on old broken down ant heaps in the veld.   My dad was an expert at finding them after it had rained and he would cover them with an empty tin for a day or two while they were expanding at an incredible rate.   Cattle also knew that they were edible and you were very lucky to find one growing where the cattle grazed.   You would wash them and cut the stem into strips and the umbrella part could be cut or broken.   You would lay the pieces out on a hot wood-burning stove until they sizzled, then you would place them in a plate with salt and pepper.   This was a dish for the gods and once eaten could never be forgotten.   You crave for them in vain as they are seldom seen.   The indigenous people say they are known as bush meat and this could be so as flies would lay their eggs on them and the maggots would soon finish them off.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Dolosse, Ossewaens and My Brother Les

My Grandpa and his “Dolosse”.
            Do you know what a “Dolos” is?   It is the knee bone of an animal and they were toys for boys who played with them from time immortal.   They were his cattle, sheep, pigs and horses.   I had quite a collection of them helped by my Grandpa and he would enjoy watching me playing with them.   He named all my oxen and laughed at my pronunciation of the Dutch names.   One day while I was playing I asked him “Grandpa, do you also have dolos bones in you?”   “Yes I have” he said. So I asked him if I could have them when he died and he said  “Yes of course you can”.   “Promise Grandpa”?   “ I promise my boy”!!!   I wonder if my grandsons would like my ‘Dolosse’ when I die one day!   I know that Harvey wants my Bakkie!!!

Die Ossewa.
            During 1938 there was a great celebration in South Africa to commemorate the Great Trek of 1838 when thousands of Afrikaans speaking South Africans decided to leave the Cape, which was under British Rule.   This opened up the interior of this country and the result was the establishment of the Transvaal, Orange Free State and Natal.   My sisters, being in an Afrikaans school near Mirage, were taught songs for the occasion and they, in turn, taught me.   So we sang these songs with pride and joy, just as the little Dutchmen did.   “Kom sing met my ‘n Burgerlied wat aan my hart sal raak”. But the one which would remain in this little “Rooinek’s” heart was “Die Ossewa”. 
  “Die Rooispan Afrikaners trek so pragtig, stap so stadig aan met die ou ossewa.   Die roepstem kom tot ons so luid en kragtig, trek saam met die ou ossewa”.   Something in those words have remained with me always and later in life I realised just how much I despised the British cruelty during the Boer War which caused so much disharmony.
            It was about that time that my parents decided to visit the Eastern Cape.   My dad had a Dodge as I can remember the sheep ram emblem on the bonnet.   With our luggage tied on the roof and on the carrier, (there were no boots), we set off.   It was my mom and dad, four children and Oupa Dave Randall.   I stood between Oupa and Daddy on the front seat and sang those Voortrekker songs with my sisters until the adults could not take it any longer.   I do not remember much about the journey accepting the car boiling up the Katberg pass and Oupa had to keeep placing rocks behind the wheels when the car wanted to roll back.   My mother had lived in the flat Free State all her life and was terrified that we would roll down the side of the mountain into the river far below.   Somewhere along this route we picked up hitchhiker who stood on the running board of the car, and I can remember my mother hanging on to him to stop him from falling off.   We visited Uncle Arthur and Aunty Dicky (Ivy) at “Anglers Rest” near East London before going on to Bolo and “Inverbolo”.   Where My Grandpa Henry Whittal was at that time I do not know, I can only think he must have been with one of his other children.   Alas! … my brain does not want to release any more details of that holiday.

My Brother Les is Born.
Grandpa stayed with us at home when my dad took mommy to a nursing home in Bothaville and it was just eleven days short of my fifth birthday that my brother Les was born.   I was so excited that at last I would have a mate, but alas, the gap was too big for us ever to become close friends.   He was named Leslie Bertram Whittal.   Once again it was a name that my mother liked, and my dad’s name was given a second name.   My parents wanted to call him Bertie, but he was called “Boetie”, little brother, and there are still people who call him that to this day.   I called him ‘Boet’ and although he prefers to be called Les, I still like to call him ‘Boet’, ‘cause he is my brother!!   As a new born baby he became very ill and my mother was kept very busy, but Grandpa was there to help her with the other children.   He made it a special task to stop me from pestering my mom.   Les was a very sensitive child who liked drawing and at one stage he even learnt to crochet while suffering from tonsillitis.   He was a clever boy who matriculated at the age of 17. ..He was a very pretty child who grew up to be a handsome young man.   He had fair hair and took after the Whittals.   I cannot remember him playing in the dust and mud, or standing in the hot cow dung to warm his frozen feet in winter.   Maybe he could send me a story or two for this, my blog.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Happy Days On The Farm

Let me regress to my preschool days on the farm.

            My grandpa was 78 years old when I was born, so the stories I tell about him were at about that time or a bit later.   He was never idle and helped where he could.   He was an early riser and after having a cup of coffee each morning he would take his hoe and go to the fruit orchard to chop out the weeds.   He was also a very impatient man and when he decided to come to the house, he expected my mom to have his breakfast ready.   He did not make life easy for her.   (I am told that I am very much like he was; I cannot answer for that so you will have to ask Yvonne.)   He went to the cattle kraal one morning to do the milking and everything went well until he had to deal with a cow who did not like to be milked.   He put a riem around her horns and tied her to a fence post.   On hearing that there was a problem in the kraal, my dad went to take a peek.
    Grandpa had tied the cow’s hind legs with a “spantou”, but every time he sat down to milk her, the cow would buck and knock him over.   After spilling the milk, he took a thin wooden post and knocked her lights-out with one shot.   He then attempted to milk her lying on the ground, saying to the beast, “If I can’t milk you standing up, I’ll milk you lying down!”   When the cow arose from her stupor, she was as tame as a lamb and never gave any problems again.  I think that he must have had a very soft spot for that cow after that!

            Most men of that time smoked a pipe and kept a little bag of tobacco on his person.  It was called a tobacco pouch and I can still see him filling his pipe before lighting up.   One day I was with my grandpa at the sheep kraal when I noticed that the old ram had something hanging between his hind legs, so I asked Grandpa, “What is that hanging under the old ram?”   And he replied that it was the ram’s tobacco pouch.   “Grandpa, but the ram doesn’t smoke does he?”   He said, “All men smoke and one day when you are big you will also have a tobacco pouch!”   I have often thought about his reply and I just have to smile about it.   The wisdom of the aged!!
           Grandpa came into the kitchen one day to find Daf with her hands behind her back and some sticky jam on her face.   “What have you got there my girly?”   “Go away Grandpa,” she replied, so he decided to have a look and found her with an open jam bottle in her little hands.   She had been putting her hand in the bottle and licking the jam off.   He took the kitchen cloth and wiped her hands and face, fetched a spoon and gave her the open bottle and stood by smiling until she’d had enough.   He then wiped the bottle clean, put the lid on and put it away

            One day while my dad was riding his horse in the veld, the animal stepped into a hole in the grass and sent me dad sprawling.   He realised that there was something seriously wrong when he could not get up or even sit up without excruciating pain.   He then found that he had dislocated his hip as his leg was lying at a peculiar angle.   He needed help, but how?   Fortunately a servant had seen him fall and struggle to sit and immediately called for help.   Petrus and his brother Abel came running, but it was only when grandpa got there that something took place.   He told Daddy that he would put the hip joint back in place but that it would be very painful.   He told Petrus and his brother to hold my dad down and he took the leg just above the ankle and whilst pulling it, he twisted it and the ball slipped back into place.   And that, for a man in his eighties!!   My dad could not do much for a long time and that very leg used to give him a lot of trouble in his old age.

            When I was about five years old we went to Bothaville one day, and a tricycle was bought for me, but I do not know whether it was my grandpa or my dad who bought it.   I was most upset when I discovered that I could not get the thing to move, and the harder I tried and failed, the more I cried.  It was my grandpa who went into the shop and got a piece of rope, tied it to my tricycle and pulled me down the street.   He seemed to have so much patience with a child.   That Tricycle became my horse which I rode all over amongst the trees, down to the windmill and dam and back again in all the cattle “voetpaadjies.”  Unfortunately I was too young to appreciate my grandpa, and his time on earth was getting shorter.   I hope that one day when I cross over he will be there waiting for me.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Growing up was Fun

Meercats on the Farm
            The mealies on the farm grew to more than six feet tall but every here and there was a patch of much taller plants.   These plants were growing in an old meercat den, years of meercat poo made the patch of soil very fertile.   The meercat moved out when the veld was ploughed for lands   There were some of these red meercat on the farm and their den was not too far from the house.   These little animals would sit upright and watch all the goings-on of the humans and farm animals.   We had a brown and white fox terrier (I think he was a Jack Russell) named Chips who could not stand the scurrying animals and would try to cut them off from their entrance hole.   But he never learnt that there were quite a few interlinking holes and tried endlessly to dig them out.   At times you could hear him barking deep down in the earth and I am sure that they were peering at him, chattering about his futile attempts.  Anyone with a Jack Russell would know how Chips had made it his number one concern to rid the farm of these cheeky animals.   Old Chips lived with us for many years and is buried in the pet cemetery on our later farm in the Eastern Cape.

Our Bulldog Polly
            Another dog of ours, which comes to mind, was a bulldog bitch called Polly.   She was a very placid dog and we children could do with her as we wanted.   Her face was enough to scare any would-be ‘skelms’.   I can remember a time when Polly had a few pups.   We as children were amazed and wanted to know where they came from, so we
were told that she must have dug them up out of the ground.   This caused us to wonder if she had perhaps missed any and I remember my sisters with a spade digging up the garden to look for more pups.   My mother was not impressed with us digging up her garden and told us to stop it and go play.   Homes were found for all the puppies and I suspect that old Chips was the daddy.   Not a useless dog after all!   Polly had a very sad end and if I have the courage I will tell you about it later. R I P.

Watermelons and other Crops 
           My dad always planted other crops among the rows of mealies such as pumpkins, watermelons, ‘soetriet’, cowpeas, beans and calabash.   Watermelons in those days were very sweet and blood red when ripe.   They would be cut into long slices, leaving the crown for last.   A big watermelon could easily feed a dozen hungry people.   One year the melons were big, but daddy had not yet picked one for us and we children decided that we would go into the lands and find a ripe one ourselves.   I have difficulty even now to choose a ripe one from a pile of melons.   Some people shake them, others scratch the peel and some put the melon on their head and press it down and listen for tell tale sounds to declare whether it is ripe or not.  I think that it was Bertha, the plucky sister, who took along a sharp knife and cut holes in the Melons to find that there were no ripe ones as yet.   I do not know what punishment we got, but we did learn that there is no easy way for a child to pick a ripe melon from a pile!  Needless to say, quite a few watermelons rotted on the land.

An angry swarm of Bees   

         There were certain minerals missing from the soil on Maizefield so the cattle had to be given coarse salt from time to time, and a handful would be popped into their mouths.   Unfortunately some salt would fall out and be dissolved by rain or dew.   My mom had some young turkeys that came across the spilt salt and quickly swallowed it all.   The result was that the turkeys became lame, but would walk again after a while.   These lame turkeys were brought to the house where they were kept in the shade of an apricot tree.   Here they could be given food and water and not bothered by any sexy turkey toms or roosters.   Under another apricot tree stood a wooden beehive on some bricks. 
      One morning someone’s dog chased up a hare and to escape the fast moving dog, the hare dove under the beehive and the hunting dog knocked the beehive over !!!!!!!   What a catastrophe  !!!!   The swarm of bees came out and started stinging everything in sight.   The dog and the hare both scampered away, the cows were bellowing and running with their tails in the air.   Old Ligman, my dad’s stallion, who was feeding nearby, farted loudly a couple of times and galloped to the far corner of the farm, and the best of all was that the lame turkeys got up and ran for dear life.   People were being treated for bee stings.   We children were each stung once or twice before being ordered to stay indoors.  How my dad solved the problem I do not know but the next morning the hive was back on its bricks and the bees were working as usual.   A few days later it was moved at night to where the other hives were kept among the Gum Trees.  Nobody wanted a repeat performance of that ugly event.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

A Carefree Farm Urchin.

            Can one honestly remember anything about your childhood before the age of about four?    I can’t.
            We were poor, very poor.   We lived in a house made from the earth with pretty wall paper covering the walls inside, but on the outside the mud-walls were smeared with a mixture of mud and dung.   Now I can hear the young people saying “Oh Sis!”, but it was an art practiced by the black women of that time.   They used a special muddy soil and mixed it with cow dung into a nice paste and smeared the walls with their hands.   The women were very artistic and could leave the walls smooth, or with patterns made by their fingers.   As a little boy I would help to mix the paste by trampling it with my bare feet, and I even helped to smear the walls.   I did not mind dirtying my hands.   Black women were very good with children and never stopped a child who wanted to learn and help.   The paste dried on the walls, leaving a nice colour, and made the walls waterproof  I am not sure where they found the mud to mix with the dung, but it must have been something that could bind.   There were no bad odours or anything like that.   I think my mother’s relatives must have looked down on us as they had well built houses.
            The verandah floor was also smeared and I can remember sitting on grandpa’s lap watching our faithful servants, Aletta or Sophie on their hands and knees performing miracles.   My dad had made deck chairs which stood on the verandah and grandpa liked to sit and snooze there.   His lap was my refuge, especially when an old black woman named Jane, who drank too much, wanted to catch and kiss me.   I would run to him, climb on his lap, and he would lash out at her with his walking stick.   I would hide my face in his neck and feel secure with his white beard tickling me.
            I loved going to the fowl pens with my dad to collect the freshly laid eggs, but you had to beware of the big rooster that would kick little children.   He was a magnificent specimen, but he did not dare kick an adult as he knew that this could land him in a cooking pot!   One day, when the fowls had been let out of their pens to eat green grass, the old rooster threatened me, so my sister, Daphne, said that we could chase him with a long gum tree branch.   Forgetting that the branch was heavy to handle, Daf and I approached the cheeky fowl, but he took one look at us, hopped over the branch and attacked, knocking me down.   She dropped the branch and, taking my hand, we ran home to be comforted by our mommy.   Meanwhile the rooster was informing the whole world of his victory by crowing loudly!

            My sisters loved playing with their home-made dolls, which even had hair made from the raw sheep wool.   I wanted to play with them, but my uncles said that if I wore a dress and girls panties then I could do so.   Never!   I did not want to be a girl so I made friends with the kwediens on the farm.   We played by the dam where we could slide down the muddy banks on our bare bums and there was clay with which to make cattle, horses, sheep and pigs.   I became an expert and, in later years, I could make the most delicate animals.   We dried them in the sun and even baked them in a fire.   This was where I had my first sex lessons by having our animals mating before you could make babies for them.   I loved asking my dad to make me clay oxen and watched those big hands and fingers doing so.   He showed me how to make a hut by covering your bare foot with wet soil and withdrawing it slowly.   He was so clever and could do anything, but he did not have the time.   He made me a sling (Catty) with which I could practice killing doves and birds.   I was never very good at that, but he could hit a tin with a stone quite a distance away.
            We had beautiful trek oxen and some of them were huge. (Oxen were also called bullocks)   They were well trained and tame and knew their places in the team when they worked ploughing the lands or pulling the wagon.   One day while my friends and I were playing around the dam, along came these big beasts for a drink of water.   They were strolling around the dam to where our toy oxen were drying so we tried to chase them away.   ‘Engelsman’, a big ox with long horns came straight for me. Hooked his horn through my braces and dumped me into the dam.   Tannie Bezuidenhout, who lived with her family in grandpa’s house, saw what happened and came to my rescue.   I had a nasty bruise on my face which she washed before taking me home.   The little kwediens had run away as they thought that they would get into trouble.   This was a warning for little boys to respect those wonderful working animals.
            Sometimes I wished that I could dress like a pikanien or kwedien, he only wore a ‘stertriem’ and nothing else.   A “stertriem” was a small piece of material pulled through the legs and tied in front and behind to a piece of string around the body.  Something like the Bushman wears.   They had no shame and enjoyed life to the fullest, and should a ball or two be sticking out, it did not matter as all animals also had balls.   My mother made my clothes; trousers with a button up fly and shirts with a tail behind and a bit shorter one in front which was always tucked in to the trousers.   These were kept up by a pair of braces which were buttoned on in front and behind.   As far as I know, no men or boys wore underpants, there were none.   Only very rich people had them.   Shoes?   Forget them.   We went ‘kaalvoet’, even to school.   A very important article was a hat, which was a must to avoid sunstroke.   The woolly hair of the ‘pikanien’ was enough to cover his skull and his black skin was already tanned.   By the end of a day, after playing in the dust and mud, a little white boy could easily be mistaken for a kwedien!
            I have many more stories from my childhood, but it will have to wait until next time.
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Monday, 21 February 2011

My Two Grandfathers, Henry Whittal and Dave Randall

John Henry Whittal       14.6.1855 – 12.4.1941
            He was the 16th child of Francis Whittal, the 1820 Settler, and was known as 'Henry'.   Like all of his siblings he was born and grew up at Cuylerville near the Great Fish River mouth.   He was eighteen years old when their father died and with many brothers already farming he would have had to go out and look for work.   He did some transport riding with his brothers, Frank and Dave, in a wagon train of four wagons between the Eastern Cape, Kimberley and Johannesburg.   He and Dave were excellent drivers, having been trained by their big brother, Frank.
A number of years later his older brother, James William Whittal, who was known as Jim, was farming in the Stutterheim district near Bolo Reserve, so this was where he headed.   Jim had married Eleanor Jane Futter and, most probably because of this, Henry met and married her sister, Sarah Ann Futter, in 1887.   These girls were the daughters of William Futter who had a very big family of 20 children.   William Futter was the son of the 1820 Settler, George Futter.   Henry was the last of the 1820 Settler's children to marry, when he and Sarah were both 32.  They firstly farmed in the Kei Road area, and after the birth of their second child he bought "Inverbolo", sized 1081 morgan, during 1890/91, from his brother, Jim, who, in turn, had bought this remote farm from a black man, and John Henry farmed there until after his wife's death in 1913.   However, from old maps of that area, it can be seen that the farm, Inverbolo, had belonged to W Futter in 1889.
There was no house on that farm, so he had to make and burn the bricks and build a house himself (This old farm house is still standing after more than 100 years).   The farm is situated down on the Kei River and he farmed there with cattle, sheep and oranges.   My late father, Bert Whittal, used to say that it was a growing boy's paradise.   Henry was fluent in isiXhosa and so were all of his children.   He was a tough man, as strong as an ox, and he was known by the Xhosas as 'Mbolambi'.   He was given this name because he used to burn in the sun and had a very red complexion.   Mbola is the red clay the Xhosas use on their faces and imbi is ugly so they called him an ugly man with a red face - Mbolambi ! (This according to Gordon Whittal who was told by Aunty May).
When he was younger he took part in the Frontier Wars, and once, with a Cavalry Regiment, he was so engrossed in the fight that he didn’t hear the retreat signal, and found himself surrounded by the Xhosa.   He wheeled his horse around and, with his sword waving at their heads, charged through their ranks to safety.   This sort of courage and determination can only be admired and brings home the hardships experienced by these early pioneers.
The only transport they had in those days were ox wagons and they also rode on horseback.   I understand that he did buy a motorcar at some stage, but never drove it himself.   He never married again after the death of his wife in 1913, but moved to the Free State with some of his children where he leased farmlands for many years.   He and his wife had eight children, five sons and three daughters.   His wife was a very small woman, with the result that not one of his sons was a very big man like himself, or his brothers.   He was a strict father, according to my dad, but he loved and spoilt his grandchildren.   When he was in his eighties he eventually went back to "Inverbolo" where he was looked after by his daughter, May, until his death as a result of cancer at the age of eighty five.
Two of his sons, Charles and George, farmed on "Inverbolo", while the others farmed in the Free State and the Transvaal.   His five sons inherited "Inverbolo" after his death and Charlie and George, who were farming there, paid out their other three brothers.   Charlie's son, Gordon, still farms there to this day.  Inverbolo was only sub-divided when George wanted to sell his half.   Grandpa has many descendants of whom I am proud to be one.    He was in the farm house on "Maizefield", in the Bothaville district, the night that I was born.   I am told that he held me shortly after my birth and introduced me to my sisters.   He was also there five years later when my brother, Les, was born in Bothaville, and he kept me occupied when my mother had to care for her new baby who became very ill after his birth.   Oh, what wonderful memories!
Boer War Service Record :-   John Henry WHITTAL    Address: Invu Bolo, Bolo.   Posted to the Division of Stutterheim, Squadron A, Troop 3.    Enlisted:  King William's Town District Mounted Troops at Stutterheim on 25 Apr
1901 -  No. 1772
  (The spelling "Invu Bolo" is on the war records)

David Walter Randall     17.6.1862 – 20.3.1957
            Dave Randall and Henry Whittal knew each other from their childhood days in the Eastern Cape.  They also had mutual relatives.   So it is not surprising that they visited each other in the Free State.

            He was born and grew up on the coastal farm "Hogsback" in the Peddie district.  This was the farm granted to his father for services rendered in the frontier wars.   He was the fifth child of John Randall and Elizabeth Flanegan and was only six years old when his father died.   His mother married Alfred Usher from whom she had a daughter.   Dave was only eleven years old when his mother died.  His stepfather died the same year as his mother so he must have been reared by his older sisters and brothers after that.
His mother had left "Hogsback" to her sons in quarter shares when she died and at a later date they sold the farm and he must have been paid out his share and moved to the Free State where he lived in several areas.   He was still unmarried at that time and I believe that he firstly went to Rhodesia where he joined the Rhodesian Police Force.   It is said that he was a very good looking young man.
He must have come back to the Free State from Rhodesia as he got married to Ellen Martha Marshall in Lindley in 1890.  He owned the farm "Sansoucie" in the Heilbron district as five of their children were born there, but he lost the farm after 1906 and never recovered financially again.   After this they lived for a great part of their lives on his brother-in-law, George Hodgman's farm "Zwartkuil" in the Kroonstad district.
During the Anglo/Boer war he remained neutral, as far as I know, and was a transport rider.   There are, however, stories told that he was involved with Lord Kitchener and the Jameson Raid in 1895.   He and Ellen had seven children, four sons and three daughters.  Ellen died on "Zwartkuil" farm, Kroonstad, and was buried there.   He lived for another twenty seven years after her death and is also buried on "Zwartkuil".  He was in his nineties when he rode one of his son's horses on a show, the horse was however led around as he was a very old man and no one wanted him to get hurt.  Three of his sons were great horse lovers.  He died at the age of ninety four.  His grand-daughter, Ellen Ambrose, tells me that Dave Randall had a very nice singing voice.   I regret that I never really got to know my Oupa Dave as he could have told me many stories.   His sister, Sarah Jane Foxcroft, was the mother of Uncle Willy Foxcroft

1933, A Year To Be Remembered.

I found the following article on the internet concerning this terrible drought:
            In 1932 and 1933 South Africa experienced severe drought.   Faced also by a worldwide depression, farmers were challenged like never before. Agricultural income dropped by half; wool farmers had to export four times as much wool as five years before to earn the same amount in foreign exchange.   By the mid-1930s the Depression and drought had reduced sheep flocks by fifteen million head.   The price of maize, the major agricultural product, dropped by half between 1929 and 1933.   Rising operating costs as a result of South Africa’s overvalued currency and lower prices drove numerous farmers into debt.   Some were threatening to repudiate their debts, and there was a real danger that commercial banks might be forced to close.
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            The year was slowly ending without any sign of rain.   The lands were still not ploughed with the animals searching among the mealie stubs for something to eat.   The veld was parched and dry with no edible plants at all.   The horses were pulling the thatch grass from the native huts and the cattle would pick up the horse dung and eat that.   There were no milk cows as their calves had died, so my folks would eat mealie porridge with pig fat and sugar.   Bread was spread with pig fat and sprinkled with salt and pepper.   It was black tea and coffee and I imagine dried rusks to fill their tummies.

            My poor mother was heavily pregnant in the scorching heat from which there was no relief.   Then on about December the 6th storm clouds started building up, the wind chased dust devils swirling in the skies, the whirlwinds reaching up into the clouds.   Lightning and thunder was followed by huge rain drops and the water soaked the parched earth turning it into dirty water pools and mud.   Amidst all this my mother went into labour and the midwife was in Viljoenskroon and had to be fetched.   My dad had an old Dodge or Plymouth which was high off the ground; he picked up his brother Arthur and set off in the mud and slush.   When they got to Rendezvous Station near Viljoenskroon they found the road under water.    Uncle Arthur rolled his pants up and walked all the way in front of the car.
They found the midwife and took her to Maizefield.   Some time during the night of the 9th of December, I was born on my mother’s bed with my dad in attendance.   Early the next morning my grandpa took me in his arms to show me to my sisters.   They wanted to know where I came from and he told them that he had caught a monkey, pulled all its teeth and shaved all it’s hair.   What about it’s tail, they wanted to know, and he told them to climb on to the house’s roof where they would find it.   The old man had chopped off a dead calf’s tail and threw it on to the roof for just this purpose.   The girls were enthralled and believed that their brother had been a monkey for a long time!!!          
For a while the problems of farming were forgotten as Bert and Lydia Whittal rejoiced at having a son!!!   In those days a woman had to stay in bed for ten days after giving birth, so we do not know who helped my mom, but my dad now had the job of preparing the lands to plant crops.   
The oxen were too thin to use for ploughing so the Government sent a tractor to the farms which ploughed a piece of land for planting.    Slowly life returned to normal, the fields were green again and the animals which had survived picked up weight.   Cows had calves, the sheep had lambs and there was a litter of piglets.   Guinea Fowls and Partridges were hatching their chicks in the orchard.   The Gum trees were tall and full of bird nests with the cooing of doves like music to the ears.   We welcomed the crowing of the roosters every morning proclaiming the coming of the day as no one wanted to sleep late.
I was named Vernon Rhodes Whittal and baptized in the Viljoenskroon Methodist Church on the 10th June 1934 by the Reverend Thomas Stanton.   Vernon was a name that my mother liked and Rhodes was my dad’s second name.   My grandfather was an admirer of Cecil John Rhodes and named his one son Cecil and to another he gave the name Rhodes as a second name.   I do not know whether I should consider this as an honour but I am proud to have been named after my dad, Bertram Rhodes Whittal.
I will return to my childhood memories later but first I want to tell you about my two grandfathers.

Who Am I? And Where Do I Come From?

The Free State Towns of Bothaville and Viljoenskroon fall in the well known Maize Triangle of South Africa.  In good years there are kilometers upon kilometers of lands of maize or as we call them in South Africa, mealies fields, growing in profusion.  Farms belong to individuals or to large Co-ops and this is the food basket which feeds the country as well as many other countries in Africa.   It was in this area that I was born in 1933.
My father and some of his brothers joined the South African Army during World War 1 and after the war my Dad joined his father where they hired a farm in the Arlington district.   During the early 1920’s they were farming on hired lands in the Kroonstad district.   It was somewhere around 1922 or 1923 that my dad, Bert Whittal and his brother, Cecil, bought a farm between Viljoenskroon & Bothaville near Mirage Railway Station.   They were granted a loan from the Land Bank to do so.   The farms in that area were not fenced and were bare and dry.   They fenced the farm and divided it into camps for lands to cultivate and the keeping of stock.   There was no water or trees, and no house to live in, so they must have camped while digging a well, ploughing lands and then building a house.   Uncle Cecil did not live on “Maizefield”.   He was married and, as far as I know, was farming in the Heilbron district.
They believed that they would grow big crops of mealies so they called the place Maizefield.   My grandfather, John Henry Whittal, and his daughter Gertie, were living with my dad and helping him.
Maizefield was beautiful farming soil with no rocks or trees, so there was no natural material with which to build a house.   The next best thing was the soil itself, which was compressed in box moulds, moving the moulds to the next level and filling them with soil again, stamping it down to carry on the next day until roof height was reached.   The walls were covered with a soft mixture of soil and cow dung to waterproof it.   Wooden roof beams were erected from wall to wall and finally covered with corrugated iron sheets.   There was a pitched roof with a flat verandah roof running the length of the front of the house   The floors were also stamped earth mixed with ant heaps & cow dung and covered with black rubber tax.
It was to this very humble home that my father took his bride, Lydia Randall, on 21 January 1925, to live and work as a team for the next twenty years.

In the meantime a borehole was sunk and a windmill erected, a drinking trough for animals was built and an earthen dam was scooped out of the earth.  All this was done with a dam scoop, ox power, bare hands and the sweat of man’s brow.   Grandpa had built a cottage from baked bricks where he and aunty Gertie lived.   Each house had a flower and vegetable garden.   Fruit trees were planted and grapevines around the house.   A few thousand gum tree seedlings were bought and planted and watered with the greatest care.   There were fowls, geese, ducks and turkeys.   The stock comprised of draught oxen, cows, merino sheep, pigs & horses.   Cart and horses was their method of transport.   There were always cats and dogs.

So this was our happy family and then three little girls were born at regular intervals, Thelma in 1926, Bertha in 1927 & Daphne in 1929.   Uncle Cecil sold his share of the farm to their brother, Arthur, who had married my mother’s sister, Ivy Randall.   They lived there until after the birth of their second child and then sold their farm to my mother’s twin brothers, Jim and Arthur Randall, who moved there from Kroonstad with their widowed father, Dave Randall.
During 1928, Auntie Gertie married my mother’s cousin, Willy Foxcroft and went farming with him beyond Bothaville on “Mooihoek” where they lived, farmed successfully and reared their four children.
Other relatives in close proximity were my mother’s eldest sister, Aunt Sally Martin.   She and Uncle Fred were childless and they farmed on “Redhill”.   There were my mother’s cousins, Ben and Edgar Payne, and their families as well as their sister, Aileen, who was married to Arch Travers.   They all farmed nearby.
Then came the bad years with severe droughts and the depression.   How my parents survived can only be imagined as they never talked about it.   I reckon that 1933 was most probably the worst and what a time to have another baby!!!